“The woven-rope carpet seemed to cut against her feet as she thought of her wasted thirteen years of keeping her nose in a book instead of going outside, or playing soccer or even just going on her front lawn.”
Luma was lying on her bed, her nose buried in a book and her hair spilling out every which way on the comforter.
“Luma, come, come!” Her mother called from down the hall. “Adam is here!”
Oh, awesome! Luma thought. Adam is my favorite cousin because he’s so reckless. Maybe I can learn something from him. She quickly put a bookmark in her novel and laid it on her bed. She jumped up and ran to the front door to greet her cousin.
“Hey, L!” Adam happily said. “I’m so glad I got to come here.” He unclipped his helmet and hung it on his bike handle just a few feet from their house.
I wish I was more like him. Luma sighed, yearning to be more like the daring Adam. Always going on adventures on his bike, climbing everything in his line of vision.
“So, I was thinking maybe you can show me how to ride a bike?” Luma asked, embarrassed.
Adam laughed. “You? No offense, Luma, but you don’t seem like the type who can ride a bike.” He looked at the slightly hurt expression on her face and quickly added, “But I can teach you. If you want.”
“Jeez, Adam!” Luma sighed. “Just teach me! I want to be….” She trailed off.
“You want to be…?” Adam asked. “Tell me.”
Luma looked down at her shoes. “Okay, I want to be more like you. I mean, you’re so fearless! You go on these explorations! And here I am, reading books and typing words for stories. But you won’t get it. It’s just who you are.” Luma looked at Adam. “There. That’s what I wanted to say.”
Adam looked at her, bewildered. “You want to be like me? Wow.”
Luma looked surprised. Why is he so confused? “Wow, what?”
“I always wanted to be like you!” he laughed. “I’m always wasting my time going out and about but never focusing on my homework or grades. You make it look so effortless to be at the top of your class. How do you do it?”
Now it was Luma’s turn to be confused. Him? Wants to be like me? It was like she was in some alternate universe. She had never thought in a million years that Adam — her carefree, crazy cousin — would want to be like her.
“Okay, I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll help you with your schoolwork,” Luma explained. “And you will help me be the zany person I’ve always wanted to be.”
Adam thought about it for a while. “Okay! I’m cool with that deal,” he grinned. “Now let’s go to the bike shop and teach you how to ride a bike!”
“Ahh!” Luma wobbled unsteadily on a dusty bike from the rental store, going so slow that a turtle could beat her in a race.
“Sit in the center of the seat!” Adam instructed. “Pedal more forcefully!”
“I’m trying! I’m trying!” Luma said, exasperated. “This is harder than I thought!”
“Keep your hands tight on the handlebars!” Adam shouted. “This is only the start of being bold. Get used to it.”
Luma processed this thought. “You’re doing this to be bold,” she mumbled. “To be bold.” With each chant, she gained speed, just a little. Soon, Luma was riding around the park, steering the wrong way a couple of times but, overall, doing very well.
Adam smiled as Luma removed her helmet. “You are doing so well. I’m proud of you.”
“Hello, Mr. Cheesy McCheesy,” Luma playfully teased. But really, Luma was satisfied by how much progress she made.
“Okay, what’s next?” Luma kicked up the kickstand of the bike.
Adam looked around the playground, thinking of what training to give to Luma. Then he smiled. “Obstacle course.”
Adam made up the course as he went. “Okay, so climb up the ladder, but with no hands. And instead of crossing the platform, go along the very edge and crab-walk to the slide. Go down on the rim of the slide, try not to fall down. Then, sprint to the mini-slide and walk up it to the bar over there, climb up there, jump down and you’re done! It might seem overwhelming, but it’s easier than you think it is.” Adam took a breath. “I’ll time you.”
“Okay. I’m ready.” Luma stretched out her hamstrings and rolled her neck around.
Adam set a stopwatch and counted down from five. “Five… four… three… two… one… Go!”
Luma dashed off, jumping and climbing and running and sliding all over the place. She had laser focus and did not think of anything other than finishing the course. When she finished, Adam had a stunned look on his face.
“Fifty-four seconds!” he said a little too loudly. “How?”
Luma laughed and wiped the sweat off her forehead. “Well, I guess the bike ride inspired me.”
“If you keep it up, you’re gonna be way better than me!” He punched Luma playfully.
An ice cream truck chimed nearby. The cousins rushed over to the vehicle, eager to get a cold, sweet treat.
When they got there, the man in the truck greeted them. “What would you like today?” He pointed to the various options on the side of the truck.
“I would like a strawberry ice cream in a medium cone, please,” Luma asked.
When the man handed her the delectable cone, she handed him the money and sat down at a nearby bench. Adam repeated Luma’s transaction, but his flavor was triple fudge.
Adam walked over to the bench and sat next to Luma. He took a few licks of his ice cream and then turned to Luma.
“OK, L. I held up my end of the deal for today — now it’s your turn. Once we get home, let’s hit the books!” Adam laughed with Luma.
But secretly, Luma was having a very important discussion inside her head with herself. I’ve never been a “mentor,” per se, she thought. I might teach him the wrong things, or make it too easy or too hard. He might be learning different things in his class, or I might teach him the advanced subjects…. The more Luma thought about it, the more the worries rolled in like big, salty, scary waves.
Luma could not show that anxiety. Adam would be suspicious, and that would be a disaster.
“Yeah. Hit the books,” Luma said weakly.
When she got home, Luma hung a sign on her door:
VERY important study session proceeding inside this room.
If it is an absolute emergency (or it’s dinnertime),
PLEASE KNOCK! DO NOT BARGE RIGHT IN.
Thank you for your cooperation.
— Luma & Adam
After hanging the sign, she turned and shut the door. “Okay, Adam, let’s do this. I’m returning the favor. So, I took the time to gather books from my own collection and from the library on numerous subjects.”
Adam was blown away. Stunned. Shocked. Luma had done all of this for him? Really? His heart filled — just a bit — at how much effort his cousin had put into his tutoring.
“Adam? Is something wrong?”
He looked up, frightened in the slightest, at Luma. I can’t show my gratefulness. I’m the cool one, after all. Despite these thoughts, Adam couldn’t push aside his urge to thank Luma for all her effort. You can’t. You need to look like the “no big deal” kind of guy.
“Ugh. I’ll just do this myself,” Adam angrily said to himself.
“Adam? Are you ready?” Luma tapped his shoulder.
“Oh. Uh, yeah, just, thinking about something…” Adam plastered a fake smile over his face to make it seem all okay.
“What were you thinking about?” Luma cocked her head to the side in curiosity. “You looked very deep in thought.”
“Um…” Adam searched frantically for a topic to say he was “thinking” about. “Um, ice cream.” He looked briefly startled by his sudden outburst. “Yeah. Ice cream: all the flavors… chocolate, vanilla, rocky road, peanut butter chocolate.” He once again faked a smile. “Yum, yum!” He said, too enthusiastically.
“Okay…” Luma said, slowly. “Very, um, interesting, topic. But enough talking. Which one first: algebra or history of Asia?”
“Algebra,” Adam said confidently. Math was the only subject he was decent at.
“Okay, here are all the books. Let’s go through every single one.” Luma put a huge stack of books in front of Adam. He started to sweat. Luma’s words echoed in his head.
Every single one.
Every. Single. One.
Every. Single. One.
“It’s going to be a long, long night,” Adam sighed under his breath so that Luma couldn’t hear. “A very, very, very long one.”
By that time, they had gone through countless books of completely boring and long equations and numbers, filling out — as Luma had promised — every single page. And when he thought he had done all that he could to master math, Luma happily placed in front of him a tower of worksheets.
And then, when Adam had finally thought he was finished, Luma chirped, “Time for history of Asia!” And put a large book in front of Adam’s face.
He just groaned.
Then, when the impossible became possible, the duo finished all the books Luma had in store, plus the worksheets, plus the pop quizzes Luma had somewhat cruelly put in store for him.
“Adam, I am very proud of you. You got algebra down super quickly, and you’re making progress in ancient history of Asia!” she smiled. “I know this is absolute torture for you, but you made it through. For today.”
Adam smacked his forehead. Oy, why did I agree to this? But even he had to admit, it was kind of — dare he say — fun to learn something new. Plus, Luma told him, this stuff was advanced, and if he could get that down, then the things his class was going over was going to be super easy.
Finally, after what seemed like hours and hours, dinnertime arrived.
Rap tap rap. Luma’s mother was knocking on Luma’s bedroom door. “It’s dinnertime,” she said. “I made chicken pot pie, Adam’s favorite!”
“Ooh, yum, chicken pot pie!” Adam jumped up, all too happy for dinner.
As Luma and Adam walked to the dining room, Luma commented on how he was going to be so ahead in his class.
But Adam, once again, was having an important meeting in his head. The thing is, he worried, I’m really afraid that I’m going to forget everything I learned today. Then I’ll have to do all that studying again, just because I forgot all the work I did. I cannot tolerate the misery I went through today, he thought, exasperated.
When the pair arrived in the dining room, the adults bombarded them with millions of questions.
“Luma, I heard you learned how to ride a bike! That’s great, but why, sweetie?”
“Adam? I saw some heavy books in your backpack. What’s the meaning of that?”
“Adam, you’ve never been interested in studying.”
“And I thought you never cared for going outside, Luma.”
“What is going on?”
And much more.
So, the cousins had no choice but to tell all about their deal: Luma telling about her bike ride, Adam telling about the torturous indulging study session.
The adults laughed and “awww”-ed as the cousins told their somewhat intriguing tale over chicken pot pie.
After dinner, Adam and Luma said goodbye to each other.
“Hey, L… maybe in a week you could come over again? Because that would be great.”
Luma’s mother, standing nearby, happily nodded. “That seems like a great idea! I’ve always been forcing Luma to go outside, but now that she finally has a desire to, I’m more than happy to let her over! I remember when Luma blah blah blah…” Luma’s mother went on about some sort of childhood memory that, personally, no one cared about.
Adam half-listened. Sheesh, he griped internally. When did Luma’s mom get so chatty and annoying? He laughed to himself. And when did I get so sarcastic?
Five long minutes later, Luma’s mother came to the end of her speech.
… and that’s why I will never buy chocolate from the man down the block!” She laughed. “Oh, sorry, Adam, I got a little carried away.” She smiled apologetically.
“Uh-huh,” Adam said, still partly paying attention. But then he realized someone was actually talking to him, and snapped back like a rubber band. “Very nice tale, Auntie Holly!” he said, as if he had actually been paying attention (he’s full of baloney).
“Really? Well, I’m glad you liked it.”
“Yeah, well, I’m going to ask my mom to go home now. I had a great time! Bye!” Adam went off to find his mom.
“Luma,” her mother asked. “I’m just interested — why do you want to be more adventurous?”
“I don’t know,” Luma lied. “I just want to.” She started to play with her hair.
“I know you’re lying,” her mom said. “You always fiddle with your hair when you lie. C’mon, tell me.”
“Fine,” Luma sighed, annoyed. “But let’s go to the sunroom.”
“Sure.” As the mother and daughter walked down the hall, Luma noticed that, out of all the pictures of her, there were no pictures of her being active. The pictures looked still and bleak against the mahogany wall with just her sitting there, reading a book or writing on her computer.
The woven-rope carpet seemed to cut against her feet as she thought of her wasted thirteen years of keeping her nose in a book instead of going outside, or playing soccer or even just going on her front lawn.
When they reached the sunroom, Luma took the hanging seat with orange pillows and her mother took the rattan couch with matching orange pillows across from Luma.
“I’d just like to become more adventurous, because everyone at school thinks I’m the smart one. I mean, that’s great and all, but now my best friend Kacee joined the basketball team and, ever since, she’s been drifting away from me. Suddenly, she’s ignoring me.” Luma looked down.
“Oh, hun, it’s great that you treasure your friendship with her. But if you feel that you’ve become more daring and she still ignores you, maybe it’s time to find new friends.”
“Thanks, Mom.” She hugged her mother, and at that instant, as Luma gazed at the infinite night sky, she saw that even through the thunderstorm clouds, the rhythm of life would continue on.
“How was the chicken pot pie?” Adam’s mother asked.
“Great, now can we go home? I already said bye to everyone,” Adam asked.
“Sure, just lemme say goodbye to Auntie Holly.”
His mom walked out of the dining room for a couple of minutes and then came back.
“Okay, let’s go.” They opened the door, saying goodbye once more as they walked out, and headed down the path and got in the car. The sky was a beautiful purple and midnight blue, and it seemed to shine triumphantly
“Adam,” his mother said in a tone that Adam knew she was going to ask a question. “Why were you studying with Luma? And why did you have War & Peace: Starter’s Edition in your backpack? You’ve never wanted to study. All you wanted to do was ride on your bike or jump off everything. I’ve been constantly urging you to study because your GPA has dropped over time. But nooo, you always were out and about.” She sighed. “What’s your new and crazy plan now?”
“I’m just… changing my act.” That was partially true. He was changing his act; he was being more studious. But there was always more to the truth.
“Adam, just tell me,” his mother said, tired.
“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you. So a couple of weeks ago, Carter got a glimpse of my math test scores. He had every right to be mad — I always made up excuses to not go to his ‘study sessions’… I said my grades were great. But now, since he’s found out, he’s been ignoring me, and it’s so annoying. I just want him to be back to normal. I asked him how I could make it up to him, and he said by raising my grades. He’s being a nice friend, but in the weirdest way. I just want Carter to be my friend again.” Adam hung his head.
Adam’s mother smiled. “Adam, you’re doing the right thing. I get it. And also, you’re making me a very happy mom. This is a win-win situation!” They both laughed, and at that moment, looking at the outstretched road in front of them, they realized that even though there was traffic and confusion and annoyance in their lives, the road of life moved on.
A few months later, the hard work Luma and Adam had done paid off.
Luma joined the basketball team, and Kacee apologized for being so exclusive. Now, Luma plays basketball like she’s been doing it since she was born — thanks to Adam.
Adam’s grades, after many lessons from Luma, had gone through the roof. His teachers praised him endlessly and Carter returned to normal and atoned for his harshness towards Adam’s GPA. Adam even aced the English exams and said they were “a piece of cake” — thanks to Luma.
But, of course, the two had to stay true to their former identities.
Luma still read and wrote like crazy, but not as much, and now she knows when to stop and go outside. Adam, on the other hand, still accomplished ludicrous feats of danger, but never put that before school and academics.
The cousins were glad they were exposed to the other person’s life.
They didn’t know what kind of problems were in store for them, from friends to homework, but they promised they would help each other.
Additionally, if they ever had a dilemma, Adam and Luma would hold a Quadruple C: Cousin Conflict Conference Club for whenever they had an issue.
But, whatever they went through, they knew that life would always go on.